There is a vast amount of archaeological evidence that suggests that over 10,000 years ago, a large portion of what is now southeast Florida, including the area where Miami, Florida exists today, was occupied by Tequestas. The Tequesta were a Native American tribe that occupied an area along the southeastern coast of Florida at the time of contact with Europeans. They were called different names by other tribes but were most commonly referred to as Tekesta, Tegesta, Chequesta, and Vizcaynos. The Mayaimi tribe of Native Americans, who lived around Lake Okeechobee around the 17th or 18th century, is the namesake of Miami. They mostly migrated by the middle of the 18th century because they rarely had contact with Europeans.
The Spanish built a small garrison on the Tequesta in 1567. There was a withdrawal of the mission and garrison over the course of a couple of years. In 1743 the governor of Cuba decided to establish another mission and garrison on Biscayne Bay but realized that the mission had not been approved by the Council and so withdrew them just one year later. The Spanish recorded that the inhabitants at the site of the 1743 mission were survivors of groups that had previously been raided by native allies of the English in South Carolina. According to the first-hand accounts of survivors, those who were able to escape the destruction at Cayo Carlos seemed to be people from the Calusa tribe, while those who managed to survive at Boca Raton seemed to be mostly white settlers. Fort Dallas was an important military base in the Second Seminole War and was established in 1836.
The Miami area was originally known as “Biscayne Bay Country” in the early years of its growth. The few published accounts from that period describe an area that was a huge unexplored wilderness but also offered much promise. The area was known as “one of the finest building sites in Florida” because it was virtually unaffected by the devastating freeze that gripped much of the state during 1894. After this event, it is noted that “at last one section of the state had escaped unscathed and showed crops standing in rows, green and hopeful among the bleak wastes”. The owner of the Florida East Coast Railway, Henry Flagler was persuaded by Julia Tuttle a local landowner, to add a station in Miami. Miami was incorporated as a city with just over 300 people on July 28th, 1896.
Miami enjoyed a great deal of success during the 1920s but became more limited in its growth due to the economic hardships seen in 1925. This year is when the real-estate bubble burst and was followed by a string of disasters that included 1926’s Hurricane and 1930’s Great Depression. World War II is what led to Miami’s rapid growth, with the population almost doubling in size as a result of the war. With its location on the southern coast of Florida, Miami played an important role in the battle against German submarines and helped to defend against an invasion by sea. After Fidel Castro rose to power in 1959 and became the new leader of Cuba, many Cubans fled to Miami, helping to more than double the population over time. During the 1980s and 1990s, South Florida faced a variety of problems that have since come to define the region. One of the most infamous was the Arthur McDuffie beating and subsequent riot in 1980 that led to a drug war, Hurricane Andrew in 1992, and the Elián González affair in 2000. Despite these, Miami remains a major international, financial, and cultural center that has seen many developments in recent years.
In the 1980s, Miami became one of the largest transshipment points for cocaine in America. The city was primarily used to ship cocaine from Colombia, Bolivia, and Peru. Billions of dollars were brought to Miami by the drug industry through front organizations, which quickly made their way into the local economy. This money is known to have had a major impact on the economic and cultural life in Miami and has helped to create a vibrant city with exciting nightlife. Luxury car dealerships and five-star hotels, in particular, began to crop up all over the city and other signs of prosperity started to show themselves. These signs of economic prosperity are being seen everywhere in the city and point to a promising future. As the money arrived, so did a period of violence that lasted throughout the 1980s until the early 1990s.
The ongoing war between the two prominent drug dealers in Miami, Anthony “Little Bo” Fail and the John Does, reached its peak in 1998 when Liberty City became the focal point of deadly battles. The John Does were determined to maintain their dominance of the Miami drug trade, while Little Bo wanted to take over as leader. It is unclear when the conflict between these two gangs began, but it was clear that this feud started when Curtis Silwa was arrested for crimes committed by members of his gang. When Fail saw this as an opportunity to take control of the gang and reclaim lost revenue from drug sales, he made a power grab; however, Fail underestimated Curtis Silwa’s popularity with the other members of his gang and was outmaneuvered.
A bitter immigration battle took place in Miami in the year 2000 over Elin Gonzalez, who was pulled from the water off the coast of Miami. The controversy surrounded this young Cuban refugee and centered on whether he would be returned to his father in Cuba or stay with relatives in Miami. The climactic stage of this prolonged battle occurred on April 22, 2000, when federal agents seized Elián González from his relatives for the purpose of returning him to Cuba with his father. This action drew the criticism of many Cuban-Americans and eventually became a spotlight moment for the contentious relationship between Cuban-Americans and Cuban-born immigrants. Alex Penelas, the mayor of Miami-Dade County at the time, pledged not to assist the Clinton administration or federal authorities in their attempt to bring the boy back to Cuba. A huge group of protesters poured out into the streets of Little Havana to protest the raid. Car horns blared, protesters turned over trash cans, and a few small fires were started. The rioters caused a lot of problems in Little Havana. Many Miami businesses closed their doors shortly after their owners and managers boycotted the city, attempting to affect its tourism industry. The boycott was started by employees of airlines, hotels, car rental companies, and major retailers. On 28 June 2000, Cuban American Elián González returned to Cuba with his father after a long legal battle and international political controversy.
Miami has played host to many notable people over the past few decades. For example, in 1987, Pope John Paul II visited for a mass that was open to 150,000 people at Tamiami Park. The honorable Queen Elizabeth II and three U.S. presidents have also been to Miami, Florida. Among the dignitaries who have visited the city is Ronald Reagan, who had a street named after him in Little Havana. Nelson Mandela’s 1989 visit to the city was marked by ethnic tensions. Nelson Mandela, the former president of South Africa, praised the Cuban leader Fidel Castro for supporting the fight against apartheid in his country during an interview with ABC News’ Nightline. As a result, the city rescinded its official greeting and no top-ranking official welcomed him. The African-American community in Miami boycotted all tourist and convention facilities until Nelson Mandela was officially greeted. All attempts to fix the issue failed for over a month resulting in an estimated loss of over $10 million.
Miami has had a difficult past and it was not until the early 2000s that it finally emerged from its long period of mismanagement and corruption. The city’s first major financial scandal involving the Mayor’s office and City Commission during the 1980s left Miami with the title of United States’ 4th poorest city by 1996. A subsequent financial scandal during the 1990s led to yet another decline for Miami. In 1997 Miami became the first Florida city to have a state-appointed oversight board when it had a budget shortfall of $68 million, and municipal bonds were given a junk rating by Wall Street. The voters of the city rejected a proposal to make the city one single entity with Dade county in the same year. The City’s financial problems continued until the political outsider, Manny Diaz was elected Mayor of Miami in 2001.